Written by Diann Leo-Omine & Lisa Lin, Photos by Lisa Lin
The mornings are chilly, and the shortest days of the year bring darkness around late afternoon. It’s no wonder some creatures go into hibernation at this time of the year. To that end, I would not judge you if you hid under your covers and pressed snooze to enjoy an extra few minutes of warmth.
In Chinese culture, the winter solstice is a prominent celebration of the shortest day of the year and longer daylight hours. Dongzhi (冬至) literally translates to “the extreme of winter” and is based in the concept of yinyang (陰陽 / 阴阳). The produce during this time of year reflects this extreme of winter. Your local farmers market will likely be overflowing with long lasting kale and sweet parsnips while winter citrus shines a burst of sunshine. So, come together with your family and loved ones and cozy up with the best produce around.
Daikon is a radish often seen in white and purple varieties. Just a little bitter, peppery daikon flavors the broth in my vegan savory tang yuan (湯圓 / 汤圆), a staple soup for Dongzhi. In Chinese, daikon is known as 蘿蔔 (traditional) 萝卜(simplified) and pronounced lo bak in Cantonese, luo bo in Mandarin. Interestingly, 萝卜 has been translated into English as “turnip.” That’s why the classic dim sum dish made with daikon is usually called “turnip cake” rather than “radish cake.”
Is there a difference between the Chinese daikon and the Japanese daikon? How about the difference between the Chinese daikon and the Korean daikon? Mama Lin insists on cooking with the thicker, more rounded Chinese daikon, and claims the skinnier, longer Japanese daikon (大根) is more bitter. The bulbous Korean radish (mu) is stubbier than the Chinese radish and usually identified by its greening near the stem. Personally I don’t notice much difference between these varieties of daikon, and any of those radishes mentioned here should be fine to use.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE DAIKON
Choose firm daikon that feel heavy for their size, an indication that the daikon is nice and succulent. If the green stems are attached, they should be fresh and green. Skip over any daikon with dark spots or yellowing leaves. Daikon can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. You can also watch a video of Mama Lin showing everyone how to pick daikon.
RECIPES USING DAIKON
Delicata squash may be the most straightforward gourd of the winter squash family. Usually about 6-10 inches long, this ridged tubular gourd’s skin and flesh can be eaten and the seeds roasted separately without the strings. Talk about a zero waste winter squash! I especially like delicata squash paired with harissa or red curry paste.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE DELICATA SQUASH
Choose delicata squash heavy for its size. When selecting delicata squash, give them a squeeze to make sure the squash is firm throughout. Store delicata squash in a cool, dry place for a month or more. Note however that the flesh of the squash dries gradually, the longer you store the squash.
RECIPES USING DELICATA SQUASH
A member of the bean family, jicama is a relative to chickpeas, green beans, and peas. It resembles a bulbous light tan potato with a crisp creamy exterior. This crunchy flesh doesn’t oxidize after peeling.
Jicama are a great substitute for water chestnuts in my pork and vegetable spring rolls and shumai. In fact, I recommend using jicama if you can’t find fresh water chestnuts for savory recipes. Jicama has a similar crunch to water chestnuts, but note that jicama is not as sweet and tends to be more watery.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE JICAMA
Choose jicama with light brown skin and free of major dents or blemishes. Watch this video for more tips on how to pick jicama. Note that larger ones (in the 3-4 pound range) tend to be more fibrous. If you live in a dry climate, you can generally store jicama at room temperature for a week or two, depending on the freshness of the jicama when you purchased it.
RECIPES USING JICAMA
Deep sea green kabocha squash looks like a green pumpkin. Like the delicata squash mentioned above, both skin and flesh are completely edible. Sliced up, it’s great for roasting and even for deep frying (who could resist kabocha squash tempura?)
What’s the best way to cut a kabocha squash? Similar to the process of cutting a butternut squash, one way is to slice off the top and bottom stems and then to slice through top to bottom from there. Scoop out the seeds (which are great roasted) and cut the kabocha squash into pieces from there.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE KABOCHA SQUASH
Choose kabocha squash that’s heavy for its size. If stored in a cool, dry place, kabocha squash can last for a month or more.
RECIPES USING KABOCHA SQUASH
Whether in a salad, roasted, or even dished up for brunch, kale is one versatile green. Not just a health food trend, kale has a lot of nutrition to boast: vitamins C and E, calcium, iron, protein. Additionally, kale is hearty, built to withstand the winter cold and a roast in the oven.
Curly, lacinato (dino), red kale: is there a difference between the different varieties of kale? Bon Appetit has a guide with more details.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE KALE
Regardless of variety, choose kale that’s crisp and vibrantly colored. Skip over the bunches with spotting and discoloration. Store kale in the refrigerator’s crisper in a loose plastic bag for a week.
RECIPES USING KALE
You can make more than lemonade out of those lemons! Zest a conventional Eureka lemon to garnish roasted asparagus or even roasted tempeh. If you come up with a windfall of less acidic Meyer lemons, bake a loaf of coconut-lemon bread or go for the classic lemon poppyseed cake.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE LEMONS
Choose lemons that feel heavy for their size but yield to a little bit of pressure. Store lemons in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Lemons can last up to a month this way.
RECIPES USING LEMONS
With colder weather often comes cold and flu season, but oranges are packed with the vitamin C you need to strengthen your immune system. The most common variety you’ll see is the navel orange, but there’s also ruby red blood oranges and warm orange Cara Caras. For a great portable lunch addition, there’s easy to peel palm sized mandarins and tangerines.
Oranges are easily eaten out of hand, but both its zest and segments add character to salads and baked goods. And don’t forget a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice!
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE ORANGES
In California, I start seeing oranges at the farmers market in November, but they’re at their peak flavor from mid-December to early February. Choose oranges with a rich orange color and free from blemishes. For the most part, larger can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. Occasionally, you may get an orange that starts to rot (the rotting usually starts at the bottom of the orange). Simply toss the orange when that happens. Peelable mandarin oranges can also be kept at room temperature for about a week. Their skins will start to dry the longer you leave them out, but they are still fine to eat. If you plan on eating the oranges beyond a week, store them in the fridge.
RECIPES USING ORANGES
Parsnips are sweeter than the carrots they resemble. A roast in the oven is parsnip’s best friend, really intensifying that sweetness. Parsnips would be at home in anything you would find a carrot in – in soup or just plain roasted, even baked into a cake (regardless of how odd a parsnip cake may sound!) Parsnips are full of vitamin C, calcium, and folate.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE PARSNIPS
Choose parsnips that look sturdy and not overly dark yellow-brown in color. Stored in the refrigerator, parsnips can keep for several weeks.
RECIPES USING PARSNIPS
Sturdy rosemary pairs well with cold weather favorites like roasted potatoes or chicken. Rosemary gives off a pine fragrance, and no wonder because its sprigs resemble mini pine branches. Like with thyme, the best way to remove the fragrant needles is to run your thumb and index finger from the top of the stem all the way down to the base. Though you’re not likely to eat a bunch of rosemary on its own, it’s a great source of vitamins A and C, iron and other minerals.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND STORE ROSEMARY
Choose bunches of rosemary that are green and without any discolored spots. Keep rosemary with its ends in a glass of water and pull as you need it.
RECIPES USING ROSEMARY